I have lived in Southbridge since 2000 and helped raise three wonderful boys from diapers to high school. In December 2005, I read a Reader's Digest article titled, “The Brain Drain”. The article spoke about how the United States was not preparing its children for a future in a global economy, how the educational system was not creating enough scientists and engineers, and the solution was to find highly qualified teachers in math and science. I worried about my own children's future and what I could do to help make a difference. Shortly after reading the article, the President of the United States, during his State of the Union address, asked for highly qualified people in math and science to step forward and become teachers to help pave the way for a brighter future for our children. It was as if the President was speaking directly to me and I answered the call. At first, I offered to substitute teach, but when I found that without a license I could not actually teach, I immediately registered to take the teacher test. My license to teach high school mathematics arrived in August 2006 and several teacher friends recommended I apply to the Worcester Public Schools District because it was large and would more readily accept a first year teacher. They were right. No sooner had I dropped off my resume, than I received a call on the way home to come in for an interview and I was hired. On the first day, I was given a classroom list, attendance sheets and the teacher text book and told to go and teach the kids.
I have had many jobs: paper boy, dish washer, landscaper, janitor, librarian, delivery driver, tutor, cashier, shoe salesman, fire fighter, rock climbing instructor, professional dancer, theater director, coach, teacher, but my bachelor's degree from Worcester Polytechnic Institute is for Electrical Engineering. I have always had a love of mathematics and it has always been in my life in one way or another. I started teaching math as a freshman in high school in 1985. What started as a friend asking me for help, turned into a classroom of students after school by the end of the year. I would listen to the lesson, take notes during class and then I would “translate” the lesson into “student-speak” for my peers after school. I will spare you the details, but I will say that my childhood was tumultuous and ended as a ward of the state my senior year. That year, my high school physics teacher, Mr. H., asked me what I was going to do after graduation. I had very little money, I would have no place to live when I turned 18 in June and thought that the only option for me was the military. Mr. H. said, “yeah, you could join the military... or you could go to college and become an engineer.” Mr. H. was speaking from the heart, for he had been both in the military and an engineer, before becoming a teacher. So silly me, I actually believed him, applied to engineering schools and was accepted to WPI with a full scholarship. I guess being emancipated has some perks. Once there, I went to school year round because I was essentially homeless. I was in the process of double majoring in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science with a minor in Philosophy and Religion, when I decide five years was enough. I wanted to start working... or I just wanted to eat something other than ramen noodles and mac-n-cheese!
I have to thank my three boys right now, because I was not their father, but they gave me the opportunity to act like one. They let me make mistakes and still loved me anyway. They had taught me the most important lesson when dealing with other people's children. They taught me patience.
I would also like to thank my Toastmaster's International Speaking Club, “Bose Speakers” of Framingham, Ma., for allowing me to lead them as club president in the late 90's. It was there that I learned the skills necessary to prepare and deliver a powerful message to an audience.
Knowledge, preparation, speaking and patience, this was my recipe for being a successful teacher.
While in Worcester, I noticed that the students that really wanted to learn math, were the non-English speakers. What could I do to help them more? The answer is that I went back to school and became a licensed English as a Second Language (ESL) teacher and according to the Department of Education at that time, I was the only license mathematics and ESL teacher in Massachusetts. I also found a mentor in the 2007 Math Teacher of the Year, Kate Shepard of Worcester.
Two years later, I applied to Southbridge High School because I was no longer that untested newbie teacher and I wanted to give back to the community in which I lived. I was so excited to be “home” and planned on retiring from Southbridge High. I do not just teach my subject, I get involved with students, teachers, parents and the community. I started and coached the Boys and Girls Junior Varsity Soccer Team in the fall. I helped start and coach the Boys and Girls Indoor Track Team with Mr. Burrus in the winter. I coached the Boys Tennis Team in the spring. I started and coached the ping-pong club, which attracted as many as fifty participants after school, between both students and teachers. I ran the Chess Club, I was Freshmen Advisor, I was on the School Council, I was a member of the School Management Team, and I was a 4th year member of a math teacher cohort at Clark University. As a member of the Quinebaug Masonic Lodge, I helped raise scholarship money to give to graduating Southbridge High seniors every year.
After my first year with Southbridge, I saw a need to better support the struggling incoming freshmen with math. Each year the math support classes would be moved around and shared with teachers within the math department, never giving any teacher a chance to become experienced at teaching a support class. I became a teacher to help students learn math and requested to teach all of the math support classes just made sense to me. Administration obliged and the other math teachers in the department did not object. No surprise there. Because I am also an ESL licensed teacher and semi-fluent in Spanish, I was able to teach two sections of ESL math support without and extra ESL teacher in the room, saving the school district money. I went to homes to tutor students with extended absences due to illness and I tutored an expelled student in all subjects after school at the library in town. I incorporated technology into the class room and successfully “Pioneered” a new software package, Study Island, and I was one of the first Study Island certified “Power Users” in the country. By customizing all assignments and using scaffolding, I was able to differentiate the instruction to get each student exactly what they needed to be successful. The results of student achievement were amazing. Approximately 75 students answered over 600,000 math problems at 89.5% correct. One student did not speak any English at all, but was able to answer multi-part fractional word problems perfectly in his head by the end of the year. The expelled student passed my class from home with a 71%. The biggest success story was the special ed ESL student that had not passed a math class in years, passed with a legitimate, no curve, no bonus, no extra credit, 61% for the year! He was so happy and I was so proud of him.
Due to successful use of the program and discussions between myself and the corporate offices of Study Island, Southbridge High gained national recognition and Study Island donated over $13,000 worth of math remediation software to help with the support classes. As a side note, I did all of this after my non-renewal because I did not want anyone to be able to say that I did not do my best to the very end.
I was also working with several seniors to start an on-line company to promote local Southbridge businesses that would be owned and operated by Southbridge High graduates, called “The Goto Guy”. Starting and running a business was my way of connecting the students to the importance of mathematics by offering real world work experience as an alternative to college. I would also like to thank WPI alumni and lawyer, Gerry Blodgett of Worcester, for helping with the legal side of starting the company.
Here is my story and these are the facts that cannot be disputed. If you wanted to make up your mind about the person Jonathan Jacobson is, there is a much easier way to do that. Ask any one of the 422 students that attended Southbridge High, because I knew them all.
“And now you know the rest of the story, good day.” - Paul Harvey